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Each year, Game Informer editors are tasked with coming up with our top ten lists for the best games of the year. Most of our lists are filled with the obvious blockbusters. This year, you'll see a lot of Mass Effect 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Borderlands 2, and others. While I included those as well, there was one anomaly I wouldn't have predicted. Robot Entertainment's Hero Academy is the best mobile game I've ever played, and landed at number 7 on my Top 10 of 2012 list.
I first heard about the game earlier in the year, when our video producer Ben Hanson was breathlessly trying to sell the office on how good it was. Considering that Ben is (by all accounts) an idiot, I didn't really take his recommendation seriously. After all, this is the guy who just this weekend told me that he'd prefer a standard slice of pizza over an identical slice of stuffed crust pizza. As I heard more and more people praise the game on Twitter, I decided to actually give it a shot. Almost a year later, I still get excited every time I see that I have a new turn to play.
It's a turn-based tactical strategy game, which is a genre that I have very little experience in. I loved Final Fantasy Tactics and became enamored with XCOM this year, but that's about the extent of my experience with it. As a mobile game, Hero Academy is absolutely perfect for asynchronous gameplay. Each player gets a finite number of resources, which can be soldiers, buffs, or health items. You can win in two ways – kill all of your enemy's soldiers or destroy their crystals.
When it's your turn, you can make up to five moves. Placing soldiers, applying buffs, navigating the board, and attacking each constitute a move. If you don't like the outcome or want to try a more effective approach, a quick press of the rewind button allows you to try another option before you submit it to the servers. If you're as OCD as me, you'll find yourself trying a dozen or more approaches before landing on what feels like the optimal strategy.
Robot has been fantastic when it comes to supporting the game. It started with only two teams, but now offers six well-balanced selections. The game itself is free, and each of these new teams only costs a couple of bucks each. I've never been more willing to pay for a mobile game's content, as each team brings plenty of new attacks and abilities to the table.
It's hard to describe what makes Hero Academy so great in writing, and it's even harder to sell it on people by talking about it. I've tried to show friends a few turns in an attempt to get them into it, but it takes a couple of full matches to really get the hang of how to play. Once you understand the quirks of each team and the basic strategies of the game, it's easy to get hooked. If you have an iOS device, I can't recommend this gem enough.